How to Care for Winter Skin
Written by Jess Beech
5 Oct 2022
Not everyone’s skin deals well with change, and the arrival of winter can be enough to throw even the most balanced complexions off kilter. When we’re outside during winter, there are cold (maybe even freezing) temperatures to contend with, as well as whipping winds and icy showers. All of which is exacerbated by the fact that we then change temperature dramatically as we enter warm, cosy buildings – where central heating systems can zap much-needed moisture from our skin.
So it’s not unsurprising to find that skin can become drier or more dehydrated than usual during the winter months, manifesting in rough, tight, itchy, or cracked skin. It’s not just on our faces either - hands and lips can also bear the brunt. The good news is that UVB rays are less potent during the winter (although UVA rays are still rife) so the winter is often not a key time to worry about hyperpigmentation rearing its head. Equally, you may find that breakouts improve without exposure to summer heat and humidity.
Common winter skin problems and how to care for them
We’re all about solutions, not problems, so here’s how to tackle the most common winter skin concerns…
Problem: Dehydrated skin
Noticing that your skin feels tighter than normal and is lacking in luminosity? Fine lines might also have appeared where there weren’t any before, or may be looking more prominent than previously. If that sounds like you, your skin may be dehydrated. Dehydrated skin is lacking in water, which is different from dry skin which is short on oil. It’s a temporary skin concern (rather than a skin type) so skin can be oily and dehydrated all at once.
Solutions for dehydrated skin:
Turn down your shower: We know few things feel more glorious than stepping into a steaming hot shower on a shivery winter's morning but your skin won’t thank you for it. Scorching, steamy showers can steal moisture from the skin, so turn down to lukewarm instead.
Add humectants to your routine: If your skin is struggling to gain and retain water, humectants will give it a helping hand. These ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, attract moisture like a magnet to draw it into the skin. The only problem is that if they can’t find water in their environment, humectants can steal from the lower layers of the skin. Topping with an emollient moisturizer will give them somewhere to absorb from, as well as sealing in that newly acquired hydration.
Avoid skin-stripping products: If you have oily or combination skin, the idea of a product that aims to soak up excess oil is an appealing prospect. But, if you over-use these kinds of products, they can also strip away the oils in the skin that are necessary for helping skin to retain hydration. Minimise their usage, or swap for gentler products during the winter.
Problem: Dry, itchy skin
Unlike dehydrated skin which is a temporary skin concern, dry skin is a skin type – just like oily, combination, and normal. If you have dry skin, which means it’s lacking in oil, your complexion is likely to feel rough and itchy, and look flaky or ashy. During the winter months, dry skin can worsen, with these side effects ramping up.
Solutions for dry, itchy skin:
Work on repairing the skin barrier: Our skin acts as a barrier, and one of its key functions is to hold moisture in the skin. If it becomes compromised because of things like frosty temperatures, cracks can begin to form in the fatty acids (or mortar) that hold our skin cells (or bricks) together. Applying ingredients with lipids like ceramides and fatty acids will help seal the gaps.
Lock in added oils: Dry skin is naturally low on oil, so applying them topically will make it feel smoother and more comfortable. Then top with a moisturizer to seal all this lovely nourishment in the skin.
Choose soothing ingredients: Dry skin can feel easily aggravated, so make a beeline for products that focus on soothing and calming the skin. Niacinamide and probiotics are both good balancing ingredients.
Rosacea is a skin condition that causes the skin to look flushed and sometimes feel like it’s burning. If your skin is already prone to lashing out when you change temperatures then the arrival of winter can be frustrating.
Solutions for Rosacea:
Wrap-up: The more of your skin that’s on show, the more is likely to be impacted by the colder weather. If you’re spending lots of time outdoors, cosy up in a bobble or beanie hat for your forehead and ears and a nice big scarf to cover your neck and chin.
Wear a barrier cream: We layer up our clothes for the winter but we don’t always take the same approach for our skin. Smoothing on a rich barrier cream before you leave the house will help to protect your skin from the elements.
Watch your alcohol intake: Party season is nestled in the middle of winter, and can be a trying time for anyone with rosacea as drinking alcohol makes flushing worse. To try and keep your alcohol intake to a minimum, consider diluting your drinks, or alternate each alcoholic drink with water.
Smoothing on a rich barrier cream before you leave the house will help to protect your skin from the elements.
Problem: Cracked hands
Our hands can get a raw deal. Not only are they exposed to winter weather just as much as our faces they can also become dry and dehydrated from things like washing up. Dry hands can range from slight discomfort or stinging, to rough texture and full-on cracks.
Solutions for very dry hands:
Wear gloves: It sounds straightforward, but our hands really don’t need to be on show as much as they are. Make sure you’re wearing a warm pair of gloves when you leave the house – especially when doing things like de-icing the car. The same goes for when you’re washing up too, so don’t forget those marigolds.
Swap your soap: Liquid soaps and antibacterial gels often contain harsh surfactants and alcohol which can strip skin of moisture. Trade yours for something less astringent and more nourishing instead.
Re-apply hand cream regularly: A lovely rich, balmy hand cream will soften up dry patches and alleviate stinging. Apply it before you leave the house as a barrier and overnight to repair the skin, and remember to re-apply after washing your hands.
Problem: Chapped lips
Lips are naturally thinner than the rest of our skin, which makes them a prime target come winter. They don’t have their own oil glands, which makes it tricky for them to keep themselves soft and supple, and cold weather can also cause them to become dehydrated. At worst, chapped lips will be rough and feel a little tight, and at worst chapping can turn to cracks.
Solutions for chapped lips:
Manually exfoliate: The feeling of having chapped, flaky lips can be enough to ruin your day. To fast-track your way to a smoother pout, use a gentle scrub (you can make your own out of sugar and honey) to physically exfoliate the lips. Alternatively, buff lips with a flannel in small, circular motions.
Nourish with a balm: Slathering on a lip balm will not only deliver much-needed nourishment where you need it most but if you wear it when you’re out and about it will help prevent further damage too.
Avoid matte lipsticks: Matte lipsticks can look gorgeous, but if your lips are chapped then all the flat colour will do is accentuate and cling to any flakes. Stick instead to glossy or satin finishes.